Friday, 13 June 2014

How photography is getting its romance back


Once you’ve slotted your beloved antique glass into place, the rest of the

camera’s spec is state-of-the-art. The Df is vintage from the front, fresh

from the back. Turn it around in your hands and you’re into modern DSLR

territory: a roomy, bright LCD screen surrounded by digital menu buttons.

Inside is the same full-frame 16.2 megapixel sensor as the flagship Nikon

D4, and 204,800 ISO sensitivity with exceptionally clean results way beyond

12,800. The battery life is almost decadently long (I have yet to run it

down) and the performance of the auto ISO and white balance is flawless.

Back on the outside, an essential part of the old-school look is the external

controls. Having dials on the outside might seem basic, but it’s something

that pro digital photographers have been pining after for years. The warren

of digital menus that you usually have to hack through to do something

simple on other DSLRs can cost you valuable shooting time.


On the Df, there are tactile clicking wheels for ISO, shutter speed and

exposure compensation, as well as the more prosaic shooting mode and on-off

switches. The dials are light to move, but they clunk into place with

satisfying weight. After a few hours using this camera, the muscle memory in

my hands allowed me to change shutter speed before I even had time to think

about it. I’ve heard grumbles that the slightly fiddly lock settings on the

dials can make it difficult to change settings one-handed, but I didn’t find

this a problem after a couple of sessions.

The external dials are beautiful, too: engraved metal and built as solidly as

the rest of the (mostly metal) body. For a 21st-century DSLR user, this

build quality feels like going from driving an automatic car to flying a

spitfire. The camera comes in chrome and in black, with the chrome version a

step further from the standard DSLR black-box look and winning the aesthetic


What’s it missing? Despite otherwise astonishing low-light performance, the

autofocus can go on extended hunting trips. There’s no built-in flash, no

second card slot, and most surprisingly, no video function at all. For Nikon

to release a new top-end digital camera without video looks so careless that

it must be intentional: without in-camera flash or video or card back-up,

the Df weighs much less than its digital peers, is easier to carry around

and unashamedly all about pure stills photography. That’s a compromise that

some photographers will be more than happy to take.

Where others see a bug, romantics see a feature. If you’re desperate for

video, seek elsewhere, but if you’re an old-fashioned type with a soft spot

for stills, the Df will be love at first shot.

For more information see

Objects of desire: Beautiful

handmade camera straps

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